Your fingers fly over the keyboard, typing away like mad. People have been begging you to complete the latest chapter of your fan fiction. Between writing applications for medical school and finishing up your junior year of college, you’ve barely had time to eat or sleep, and the fact that you had to choose between the two made you want to tear your hair out. You smile wryly as you jot down another sentence. Clearly you’re choosing to do neither as you’re sitting in the small campus café past a decent hour without having ordered anything.
Engrossed in your story, you violently start as the old courtyard clock outside mournfully strikes two. Looking up from your laptop, you stare at the deserted café, dimly lit by fluorescent lights. The emptiness doesn’t bother you. You’ve sat in this spot many times, ever since you were a freshman, either studying for classes, taking practice MCATs, or writing stories. All the student workers know you and you know all of them. Your favorite is the manager, a senior named Victoria. She’s an international student from China who seemed hell bent on mothering you. The first time she watched you pore over a problem set for sixteen continuous hours, she slammed your laptop shut, cooked you a huge meal, and frog marched you back to your dorm with instructions to rest your eyes. In hindsight, you supposed she had done you a favor, but at that moment, you had been itching to take off her head with a tornado kick for disturbing you.
You shake your head and smile slightly at that memory. Victoria. She was probably one of your first friends on campus. But friend seemed like the wrong word—maybe older sister. Friends wouldn’t insist on you giving you a haircut because you looked like a mushroom. Or lecture you about taking more vitamins. Or leave out an urn full of steaming coffee before closing the café for the night, with dire warnings taped to the side about the effects of caffeine on sleep. You glance over at the silver pot covered with sticky notes and grin, thankful for Victoria’s thoughtfulness.
Yawning, you check the time—a quarter past two. Technically, you aren’t supposed to be in here past closing. But knowing Victoria had its perks. She didn’t really care if you stayed late, probably because of that time you had that meltdown when the library kicked you out before you had finished your twenty-four hour take home midterm. Victoria had looked genuinely frightened when she found you sitting outside the library doors frantically scribbling away and mumbling to yourself as your timer counted down to zero. After that, she gave you the keys to the café, a most agreeable arrangement.
Should you complete the chapter? You hum absentmindedly, fingers tapping away on the desk. It’s late and you’re tired. You’ve gotten more sleep since finishing the MCAT and your personal statement, but there’s still quite a lot of work left. Finals are coming up and while you know you’re in good shape, additional reviewing wouldn’t hurt. But readers have been commenting on your fan fiction page and you haven’t updated in a while. You should try to wrap things up, you decide. You love your readers and they deserve more. Looking over what you’ve written so far, you try to focus. Your characters are in the middle of a fight, with one of them screaming terrible, terrible things at the other. You type out a few more words, but feel unsure about how to end her rant. Maybe coffee would help.
Trying not to imagine what Victoria would say if she saw you chugging black coffee at two in the morning, you furtively fill a cup and turn back towards your booth. Something odd gleams in the silver pot’s reflective surface, catching your eye. You swiftly glance up. There’s someone outside the café, leaning unsteadily against the glass wall.
Weird, but not too weird. It’s a Saturday night and tons of parties are going on at this time. Whoever that person is probably was just too drunk and needed a place to sit for a while before raging again. You dispassionately return to your seat, setting down the brimming cup of coffee carefully. Back to work. You place your fingers on the keyboard in anticipation for the torrent of words to come.
A loud sob shatters the silence.
Where did that come from? You push yourself up from the table and look towards the figure now slouched on the ground. More sniffs follow, the person’s entire frame shaking. Concerned, you hurry forward, but check yourself. Maybe they don’t want your help. Maybe they think they’re alone and just want to cry. You’ve definitely had those moments before.
Hesitating now, you wait and watch. The person looks like a slim girl, if her black hair cascading over her thin shoulders is anything to judge by. She has her face buried in her arms around her drawn legs, loud heart wrenching sobs wracking her frame. You can hardly bear it. You wait for maybe ten seconds more before moving again. Crying is just too hard to ignore.
Opening the door quietly, you step out, making sure to turn the deadbolt so that the door won’t close completely. The girl doesn’t seem to hear you. Tiredly, you walk over and sit down next to her, tentatively patting her shoulder. She quickly looks up, the moonlight catching her tear stained face. You involuntarily gasp.